Film Year: 1971
Director: Harry Essex
Starring: OCTAMAN!, Pier Angeli, Kerwin Mathews, Jeff Morrow, David Essex, Read Morgan
Rifftrax Year: 2019
Riffers: Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett
Featured Short: "McGruff's Drug Alert"
Drugs probably aided the creation of Octaman, so McGruff the Crime Dog is here with a drug PSA to remind kids to just say no! He follows kids around an lectures them on drug danger, comparing it to poison and warning about stranger danger, alluding that drug habits can lead to selling drugs, which is crime! McGRUFF HATES CRIME!
I remember McGruff from when I was a kid, with all the commercials asking us "Help me take a bite out of crime!" I'm not sure how much of a bite out of crime I took, but I think I turned out alright. I hadn't seen McGruff in quite a while, this short was a trip down memory lane. It's not ineffective, since McGruff was a character I think most kids liked and somewhat respected...until they grew up and stopped doing what the cartoon dog told them to do. But if you're the right age, the message is received.
From the co-writer of Creature from the Black Lagoon comes Creature from the Black Lagoon again...only awful this time.
This movie sees a group of scientists in Mexico researching mutated sea life. They come across a mutated octopus species and experiment on it. Unaware these are the children of the mutant Octaman, the title creature comes into camp and starts killing people. The scientists then try to do whatever they can to capture the beast, but they may need to kill it before it kills them.
The elephant in the room is that Octaman costume, which is hilarious. Technically Octaman has eight tenticles, but two of them are entirely immobile, two more are controlled by strings whenever the crew feels like making them move, while the other four have the suit actors limbs in them, but look just like arms and legs. Meanwhile the head looks like a Funko Pop figure (I would die of laughter if Funko released an Octaman) and his entire look is a weird mixture of plastic and Styrofoam. If I told you this was some of the first effects work by Rick Baker, you might shit yourself.
At times it feels as if the production is making due with what they have. The film tries hard to be atmospheric and feels like it's attempting to frame things in an effective manner. I'd like to think that limited resources were the culprit here, but there are too many other things going haywire. The acting is stiff, weird, and often stereotypical. The blocking of Octaman scenes are often confusing and poorly choreographed. The film pads out scenes of searching for Octaman or stumbling around in a cave beyond reason, and the film can be tiresome.
But when I get a glimpse of that Octaman costume, the movie puts a smile on my face. There are swell intentions in this movie put forth by people who don't know what the hell they're doing, and it results in trashy, goofy fun. Octaman is a worthwhile monster from the garbage heap, and I'm happy I got to see his opus on the big screen.
Minor Note, this was the final film of its female lead, Pier Angeli, who died of a drug overdose during shooting (McGruff tried to warn her). I doubt she wants to be remembered for having died while making Octaman, so remember her as the female lead opposite Paul Newman in Robert Wise's Somebody Up There Likes Me instead.
The Live Show
Rifftrax Live's 2019 lineup gets off to a rousing start with one hell of a find for the movie and some pretty solid, at times hilarious, riffing. This first one out the gate sets a pretty high bar for the rest of the year.
But first they test the mutated octopus waters with the McGruff short, which isn't as solid as other drug PSA's they've done, like Drugs Are Like That (which gets a cute reference), but stands on its own. McGruff gets a lot of the quips because he's a beloved character that they've never tackled before, as gleefully point out a kid think's he's tripping on something in this PSA because he's seeing a talking, anthropomorphic dog. There are a few dog quips here, including a "red rocket" joke, and the guys get confused about his catch phrase when he starts talking about poison: Help me take a bite out of poison?
When Octaman starts playing, the audience lights up. This is the type of cheese us riffing fans live for, and the movie gives us the title character straight away, marching his way through the opening credits ("Scenes like this are why we had to show this one on the big screen!"). We can tell this is going to be a goofy one, and bring it on! The riffing is at its highest when Octaman shows up, with quips like "Bela Lugosi fought an octopus with more dignity!" and "It's like Tim Burton designed a Sesame Street character!" The action then gets absurd, as the rubbery tentacles do crazy amounts of damage, as the guys wonder how it's possible a tentacle could stab somebody.
The main flaw with the feature is that laughs and interest in general can take a nosedive when our beast isn't onscreen. This is when the padding of the film is at its most plentiful, and it can start to get frustrating as we watch unlikable characters mosey around. The guys seem to realize the tediousness and set up a skit where Bill gets fed up and walks off the stage, which reminded me of a similar bit where Kevin was "fired" during the House on Haunted Hill live show, only with less Paul F. Thompkins. I got a good laugh out of Mike and Kevin just shrugging it off. "Did Bill just quit Rifftrax? Yeah, you'll get that."
Octaman is the most fun I've had at a live show since Samurai Cop. Part of it is that I thrive on weird finds like this movie, but the riffing caused me to throw my head back and laugh at the best of times. The few slow spots prevent me in calling a great experience, but it's one worth watching.